The New CDC Guidelines Embolden The Maskholes — Frontline Workers Are Going To Pay The Price

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
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Earlier this week, a video of actor turned right-wing mouthpiece Rick Schroder began to circulate online. In the video, Schroder is harassing employees at a Los Angeles Costco over wearing masks. The front end manager calmly explains that while the CDC may be relaxing mask guidelines, California is still requiring masks to be worn indoors. We’ve been seeing videos of people complaining about wearing masks in stores for the last year. But now that the CDC is changing mask guidelines, this is going to become a more common occurrence. And frontline workers are going to be the people who bear the brunt of this behavior.

Don’t you think we’ve asked enough of frontline workers this year? During quarantine, they had to go to work and face the public, risk getting sick and bringing the virus home … while all of us stayed safe at home. Then, when things started opening back up, they had to face assholes who refused to wear masks, and try to enforce their state’s mask mandates. And now, thanks to the new hella confusing new masks guidelines, they are faced with a brand new fucking mess.

In the Rick Schroder video, the Costco employee calmly explains Costco’s new rules in light of the most recent mask guidelines. In a statement last week, Costco explained that vaccinated members would no longer be required to wear masks in stores. But there’s a caveat to that rule. They can only go mask free if their local laws allow it. So if you live in a place where they’re still requiring masks to be worn indoors (like in California) then you have to follow your state or county’s rules. But we all know that people aren’t going to do their due diligence and look into what the store’s rules are.

By now, we’re well aware of how difficult these new mask guidelines are going to be. Asking people to rely on the honor system about who is actually vaccinated feels like a literal nightmare, and yet, here we are.

As we know, many cities and states are ready to get back to “normal” because capitalism is real and pervasive. They are likely latching on to the new rules enthusiastically because it means that now they can open up and make more money without guilt. They can decide that cities and states are done with COVID, putting people at risk. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of stores begin to adopt policies about who needs to wear a mask based on what their local guidelines are. Which is breeding ground for absolute chaos. On the other hand, some might choose to keep their mask rules in place and continue to protect people. But as we’ve seen the last 14 months, if they choose to continue requiring masks, the employees will be the ones to enforce those policies.

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Frontline workers are some of the hardest working people during this pandemic. Retail workers have been putting their lives and the safety of their families on the line this entire time. Additionally, they’re opening themselves up to all kinds of harassment. How many videos have we seen of store employees being screamed at by customers? Or the ones having to get into literal physical altercations with customers who refuse to follow the rules? What do we think happens when there’s no one there to film it? More of the same of course. I can only imagine how many Target employees have been screamed at by Karens who refuse to put on a mask while they shop for their “live, laugh, love” throw pillows and peruse the dollar spot. These workers are working low wage jobs and being asked to face people who cough on them on purpose.

Anyone who works in customer service, be it in retail or food service, knows how awful working with the general public is. And when you add in the fact that these jobs are very often low paying, it only rubs salt in the wound. There have been countless commercials and other things thanking those workers, but that’s all performative. Not when we’re still fighting for a higher federal minimum wage. And certainly not when these workers have been making sacrifices every day for jobs where they aren’t respected by the same people they serve.

They’re about to be facing further harassment, but now the government is on the side of the harassers. And if you don’t think these anti-vax, not mask-wearing-folks aren’t going to be the ones telling a store employee, “the CDC said,” I have some magic beans to sell you. And we’re already seeing it, as evidenced by the Rick Schroder video. Clearly, these are people who only hear what they want to hear and pick and choose which rules they want to follow. It’s funny how when the CDC was saying wear a mask, they were wrong. But now that they’re saying fully vaccinated people can go without one, the same people who refused to listen to them are hanging on their every word. Actually, it’s not funny, it’s depressing as fuck.

Frontline workers shouldn’t have to be the only ones enforcing store mask policies. This is a job that feels way beyond their pay grade. How are they, as regular people, supposed to know who is and isn’t vaccinated? It’s not like you can look at someone and know their vaccination status. And if these people are refusing to wear masks and get the vaccine now, we know they’re not going to suddenly change their behavior because the CDC is saying the new rules apply only to people who are vaccinated. They’re simply going to argue that it’s their right to not have to wear a mask, vaccination status be damned. And the employees are going to be the ones they take their frustrations out on.

In trying to keep people safe, states are continuing to put frontline workers at risk. I get it, there is a huge push to follow these new CDC mask guidelines. And some may think that by lifting the mandates, they’re actually saving workers the stress of arguing. By not having to constantly ask people to wear masks, these employees could be getting a break. But what they don’t consider is the people who will absolutely take advantage of these new rules. So they’re not actually saving the frontline workers from anything. Instead, they’re adding on a new stress. Because now it’s the guessing game of who’s vaccinated and who’s lying? And because we’re not requiring people to carry around their vaccination cards, truly, how are employees going to know?

It’s simply not fair for companies to force frontline workers to bear the brunt of their customers’ bad behavior. They have already been doing everything to keep places running as smoothly as possible. And now, they’re being asked to be the forward facing recipients of displaced rage. After his Costco rant, Rick Schroder explained that his issue wasn’t with the employees of Costco, but with the government who created the rules. But that’s the thing — no matter who these people are mad at, we know who is going to be the ones they take that anger out on.